Saturday, May 03, 2003

Right-wing fraudsters

It's always a pleasure to see justice being served. From the Oregonian:

Judge halts Sizemore funding
A Multnomah County judge cut the flow of money to tax activist Bill Sizemore's political organization Wednesday, saying the group had engaged in "extensive wrongdoing."

The injunction dissolved Sizemore's tax-exempt foundation. It also ordered his political action committee to stop using money from charities and from doing business with Sizemore's signature-gathering business, I & R Petition Services, for five years.

Circuit Judge Jerome LaBarre blasted Sizemore -- Oregon's most prominent petitioner of ballot initiatives -- saying he illegally used the tax-deductible contributions for political purposes. LaBarre called Sizemore's group, supposedly set up for educational purposes, "a sham charity" used "for his own financial gain."

Sizemore has been the leading anti-tax activist in Oregon for some time now, and is almost singlehandedly responsible for the sorry state of education in the state's public schools. Like Tim Eyman in Washington, he's capitalized on the Conservative Freeloader faction -- you know, the folks who want all those public services and cops and roads and schools but don't want to have to pay for them -- by trotting out a fresh initiative every year or so designed to "get the government off our backs."

It should now be clear to everyone in Oregon that Sizemore and his ilk are nothing but scam artists. Unfortunately, there's a sucker born every minute -- and in the Northwest, it seems, there are two.

Militia border patrol update

In case anyone was wondering about the intentions of the Arizona militiamen now roaming our borders, there's this snippet from Diana Washington Valdez at the El Paso Times:

Militia group sees migrants as 'threat'
Among the requirements for joining the militia border patrol are a state certification for a concealed weapon course and a hunting license. Simcox says the course is to screen out applicants who have criminal records, which a background check would reveal, and the hunting license is to have legal access to federal and state park lands.

Actually, every member of the public has legal access to federal and state park lands, with or without a license. It's quite clear the license serves another purpose entirely, and a chilling one at that.

Of course, this is the kind of activity that President Bush has seemingly endorsed as "a backlash ... stirred up by the people."

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Santorum and the Sea Change

One of the interesting subtexts of the current dustup over the recently outed homophobia of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum is that even though the GOP is officially standing behind him, party leaders must be discomfited by how deeply the controversy cuts against the GOP's current national electoral strategy.

It's also worth considering for a moment what the situation reveals about the politics of being gay and lesbian in America today. Ten years ago, Santorum would have been backed by a chorus of fundamentalists decrying everything homosexual, and there would have been little hesitation by party officials in their support. Now they're hoping the controversy just goes away. That quietly suggests a sea change that lurks beneath.

It became clear during the Trent Lott controversy that Karl Rove and Co. were writing off the neo-Confederate wing (for now, at least) in pursuit of the ever-elusive Suburban Voter, who might swing Republican if he/she could be convinced the GOP weren't awash with extremists of nearly every stripe. To pull off such a ruse, Lott had to go. But the scandal revealed a growing tension within the GOP, between its longtime pandering to the bigots and haters who comprise much of its voting base and the desire of the conservative movement to become a genuine majority with broad appeal.

Now comes Santorum, whose recent remarks comparing homosexuality to bestiality and other social ills run smack into this rift. Certainly Santorum's views resonated with a significant power bloc within the White House -- particularly its legal wing, headed by Solicitor General Ted Olson (as well as the judicial wing headed by Antonin Scalia), whose own legal philosophies rather neatly (and ominouosly) align with Santorum's thinking, such as it is. Most of all, it strikes a chord with the fundamentalist bloc both inside and outside the White House.

However, the controversy undercuts the national electoral strategy on which Rove seems to have embarked, trying to appeal to suburban voters whose fiscal conservatism is often overwhelmed by the sheer repugnance of the Republican party's agenda. This is the purpose of the Bush team's attempts to build an image as racially inclusive -- not so much to attract black voters, but to win the confidence of fence-sitting white voters. It's also clear that Rove intends to bank on an increasing passivity on the part of Democrats when it comes to capitalizing on such clear-cut atrocities as the Lott and Santorum matters.

This shift in GOP strategy is in most regards a good thing; the more that extremist positions are marginalized within the GOP -- which has unfortunately tended to pander to such voting blocs in the recent past -- the more they are marginalized in the population at large. But so far there is no indication that recent Republican attempts to cast off their Cro-Magnon image and assert their "inclusiveness" are anything more than cosmetic; witness the ongoing defense of Santorum, or the fact that Lott maintains considerable power in the Senate as chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. More to the point, there is little likelihood that the radical unilateralism of the Bush Doctrine, which in its utter contempt for both the United Nations and international law resonates deeply with a large segment of right-wing extremists, will be anything but ascendant in Washington for the foreseeable future.

Thus we get potentially the worst of both worlds: a dominant GOP that continues to attract and empower extremists even as it effectively markets itself to the broader mainstream as having purged itself of such elements. This is only made possible by two things: 1) a compliant press that functions more as a propaganda organ for the White House than as a civic-minded watchdog; and 2) a passive Democratic party that is reluctant to attract the wrath of the right-wing propaganda machine by confronting the Cro-Magnons who continue to run the show for the Republicans in the House and Senate.

The latter is especially important to the current dynamic. This passivity represents a mind-boggling level of ineptitude, because the breach exposed by this rift in the direction of the GOP is essential to Democrats' own long-term hopes to return to power. Hunkering down is a foolish option.

The GOP hopes to tone down its image as hospitable to extremists even as its extremist elements rise in actual power. Democrats should be leaping aggressively into this breach, demanding the removal of people like Santorum and Rep. Howard Coble as unfit for leadership positions in a party that touts itself as "inclusive." And it should be vigorously pursuing a legislative agenda that promotes issues which confront the breach in the Republican shift, particularly abortion, race, hate crimes and gay rights.

This latter -- which clearly is the flashpoint in the Santorum matter -- is one of the most significant, especially since Democrats' clear reluctance (aside from Howard Dean, who continues to give me reasons to vote for him) to leap into the Santorum fray is indicative of the miserable short-sightedness of the party generally. Democrats are afraid of being branded too "gay friendly" by the conservative Wurlitzer, and thus back off from a prime opportunity to cut the GOP off at the knees.

What Democrats fail to comprehend is something that the Republicans are implicitly admitting by their recent efforts to appear more "inclusive" of such former targets as homosexuals: the gay-bashing rhetoric so favored by conservatives in the '80s and '90s, particularly in service of the fundamentalist right, has backfired. It is no longer deemed acceptable behavior by all those soccer moms who Karl Rove wants on the Republican rolls.

The reality is that American society has quietly undergone an important change in attitudes during the past decade, especially as more and more gays and lesbians have come out of the closet and staked out their place in the mainstream. Increasingly, gay people are not just a few furtive strangers but they are somebody's cousin or brother or schoolteacher. This ultimately has affected even those people who find homosexuality repugnant or morally objectionable; they may not change their views much, but they understand that we're still talking about real flesh-and-blood people and not some abstract demon.

This sea change became clear during the last two attempts to pass an updated and upgraded hate-crimes bill. Titled the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act [of 2001 and 2002, respectively], its main champion in the Senate was Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, though it enjoyed bipartisan support, notably by Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee. It died in 2001 because Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah -- one of the chief enemies of the bill -- chaired the Judiciary Committee for much of the active portion of the session (until Jim Jeffords' May 24 defection); and it foundered in 2002 because Democrats failed to make it a priority, and Hatch managed to hold it up in the Judiciary Committee once again, citing bogus objections that the law somehow might prevent local law enforcement officials from prosecuting serious crimes.

The new hate-crimes law was a significant improvement on the 1995 Hate Crime Sentencing Enhancement Act, which is the primary hate-crimes law on the federal books. It is also notoriously inadequate because of limitations placed on its scope by Hatch and cohorts (Jesse Helms being among the ringleaders) during its two-year ordeal back then, since Republicans were running the show. The chief limitation is that in order for federal investigators and prosecutors to get involved in a hate crime, it must be a violent crime that occurred either on federal property (such as, say, a national park) or during the commission of a federal activity, such as voting.

Obviously, that severely limits the kind of circumstances that can even constitute a federal hate crime under the 1995 law, and renders the law nearly useless in actually dealing with hate crimes -- even when doing so is being emphasized by a Republican administration. For instance, since Sept. 11, the FBI has initiated some 414 hate-crime investigations involving Muslim, Sikh, and Arab-American victims. So far, only 17 people have been charged federally -- and not one of them has been charged under the 1995 law. State and local laws, as always, have been far more effective; another 129 people have been charged at that level in those investigations.

The 2001-02 versions of a federal law addressed three areas where the 1995 law has clearly proven inadequate:

-- It eliminated the limitations on venue and gave federal investigators broad leeway to open hate-crimes investigations and for prosecutors to file federal charges.

-- It provided federal funding for local law-enforcement agencies to tackle hate crimes -- including educating officers and prosecutors on the laws and their importance, as well as offering investigative and enforcement tools. This aspect of the law addresses the noterworthy failure of both federal and state laws to fund enforcement of the laws.

-- It expanded the definition of a hate crime to include those crimes motivated by a bias against both gender and sexual orientation.

It was this last feature, of course, that spelled doom for the legislation insofar as Republicans are concerned. Over the past decade the GOP has consistently fought against hate-crimes laws that offer protections for gays and lesbians, on the seeming logic that such laws discriminated against people who might harbor religious reasons for kicking the living shit out of queers. Hate-crimes laws that include sexual orientation among the bias categorites, they have argued, endow "special rights" upon gays and lesbians.

Throughout much of the 1990s, this opposition took the form of open gay-bashing, suggesting that somehow these people have it coming and are unworthy of any kind of protection -- in effect making gay-bashing a "special right" for fundamentalist haters. Remarks like Santorum's used to be commonplace among the Jesse Helms contingent, and the complicit GOP support for gay-bashing was a well-known reality among gays who are not Andrew Sullivan.

But by 2001 and 2002, the viciousness had faded -- and was replaced with the current GOP strategy, which is merely to strangle any controversy in its crib and hope that nobody notices its muffled cries. Republicans, in effect, were facing up to the reality of significant changes in attitudes about gays in broader society -- a reality that seems to have eluded the congenitally clueless Democrats.

I interviewed Rep. Barney Frank last fall about the hate-crimes legislation. Frank was anticipating that the bill might make it past Hatch's machinations in the Senate and into the House, where he planned to shepherd it. But he of course had a pretty grim prognosis for the law, since Tom DeLay and the rest of the Republicans running the House make cretins like Hatch look enlightened:
The problem in the House is that the Republican leadership is determined not to do anything or allow anything that’s supportive. And the way the rules of the House work, unlike the rules of the Senate, they’re in total control. As long as the Republicans are in control of the House, you’re not going to see, I’m afraid -- or at least, not for the foreseeable future -- but they won’t allow either the hate-crimes bill or ENDA or virtually anything else that’s supportive of the position of non-discrimination to go forward, and they have total control.

The Republican leadership -- look, they’re worried about their base, and a large part of their base is very homophobic. Things have evolved. They don’t want to do much gay-bashing anymore, because they know that face has cost them something. But they are firmly against and will never allow anything supportive.

Are they trying to attract the gay vote?

No, but they do know -- well, some of them are, I mean, the Log Cabin people try to basically say, look, they’re not calling us names -- what they’re trying to do is attract the votes, I think, of people who are gay and very conservative economically. But even more, I think, it’s not so much the gay votes, they know by now that since so many of us are out, what’s at play here are not just gay and lesbian people but millions of our relatives and friends. They understand it’s not a good idea to call somebody’s kid an asshole -- even if the person isn’t happy that the kid’s gay. So they’re really trying to answer to the general public.

Gay rights used to be a wedge issue used by the Republicans against the Democrats -- that is, they would force Democrats to vote on these issues because then they would feel that the general public being anti-gay and the Democratic primary electorate being pro-gay, we would be caught in the middle. Now that’s reversed.

Frank is one of the few Democrats who understands that this sea change in the electorate presents an important opportunity to make inroads against the Republican hegemony in Washington. The rest of the Democratic leadership continues to behave as though the old rules were still in place. Witness the reluctance to make an issue out of Santorum's continued leadership role in the Republican Senate.

There is a difference, of course, in being a "pro-gay" advocate and taking a firm stand against hatred and bigotry. Democrats need not be advocates of the "gay agenda" in order to expose the odiousness of someone like Santorum, and by extension the larger Republican Party. They only need to address the bigotry, specifically and unmistakably -- and when it comes to treating gays viciously, the mainstream view has become quite clear. Out of the entire pack of presidential candidates, only Howard Dean has acted as though he understood this, denouncing Santorum's remarks in very clear terms:
Equating the private, consensual activities of adults to the molestation of minors is not a policy discussion. It is gay-bashing, and it is immoral.

Its brazenness notwithstanding, the GOP's hypocrisy in trying to play both sides at once -- coddling Santorum and the gay-bashers even while it touts its "inclusiveness" -- has so far been a winning strategy. And it will continue to be until the Democratic Party rekindles an understanding that its greatness has always been measured by its willingness to stand up for the little guy.

Monday, April 28, 2003

The Satanic courts strike again

I've mentioned previously the anti-tax protesters who have been scamming a lot of people into filing phony federal returns and getting into serious legal trouble as a result. This kind of activity is, of course, one of the real threads running through much of the history of the Patriot movement, dating back to the days of the Posse Comitatus, and continuing through the rather vivid case of the Montana Freemen.

Well, here's the latest twist:

Judge bans a 'nonsense' anti-tax book
ACLU calls it a free speech issue
A Las Vegas federal judge has called the anti-tax writings of a civil defendant "nonsense" and enjoined him from distributing a book that's based on them.

The case has sparked a legal battle that pits federal tax law against First Amendment rights.

A suit brought by the Tax Division of the Justice Department has won a temporary restraining order that enjoins Irwin Schiff and two co-workers from 13 specific activities, such as holding seminars that promote any false or fictitious tax schemes. U.S. v. Schiff, No. CV-S-03-0281-LDG-RJJ (D. Nev.).

While the government's complaint is thick with details and weighted by exhibits, the allegations boil down to this: Schiff and his associates are tax cheats.

The piece explores the ramifications in reasonable depth. (Of course, it misses perhaps one of the more amusing aspects of the case, which is how the ruling will be received among the True Believers -- that is, as yet another perfidy inflicted by the Satanic cabal that now runs the courts.) I think the free-speech questions it raises are important.

In my relatively limited experience with Patriot-related publications, even those that are known to contain provably false information nonetheless enjoy certain First Amendment protections. This even seems to extend to such books as those which advocated violent domestic terrorism -- and contained detailed instructions thereon. Thus it remains possible to purchase any number of manuals describing how to build homemade pipe bombs.

I do know, however, that people tread onto very thin constitutional ice when it comes to claiming First Amendment protection for criminal acts. This is, as it happens, one of the important points undergirding the constutionality of hate-crimes laws: That is, laws that tighten sentences for criminal acts committed with a bias motivation do not run afoul of free-speech protections because they deal with conduct (that is, something which is already a crime) that is not protected by the First. The illustration at the vivid extreme end of this logic is that one cannot assassinate a president and claim a free-speech protection for doing so.

It will be interesting to see if this ruling stands.

Tripartite hate

Checking in with our friends from the theocratic right ...

Three Different Colored Gloves -- One Fist
By Flip Benham
Homosexuality, Islam, and abortion have something in common. They are three different colored gloves covering the same fist. Abortion is a crimson glove (stained with the blood of our pre-born children). Homosexuality is a pink glove (stained with the blood of young men and women given over to their own lust, and stained with the blood of nations that approve of such behavior). Islam is a black glove (stained with the blood of Christians, Jews, and anyone else who dares disagree with the false "god" Allah and his demon possessed prophet Mohammed). Three different colored gloves, yet the same fist. It is the fist of him who robs, kills, and destroys. That's right, I'm talking about the devil himself! We are not unaware of his schemes.

Flip Benham, for those with long memories, was one of the guiding lights of the former Operation Rescue, the radical anti-abortion group that advocated violence against abortion clinics and providers, including the murder of doctors. Three of its former members are now in prison.

Benham's new gig, for those who choose not to click on the source link (perfectly understandable), is called Operation Save America. It openly advocates a theocratic Christian state, outlawing abortion and declaring war on Islam. He's become much more marginal a figure than he was in the 1990s, but the memes he trots out have a way of working their way into the broader fundamentalist circuit. And he maintains considerable clout in the radical anti-abortion underground, which is still hiding such domestic terrorists as Eric Rudolph.

This most recent piece is a "three-fer": It targets pro-choice liberals, gays, and Muslims, all of whom evidently are the allies of America's true enemy, Satan. What, no Tom Daschle?

Well, Benham should be easy to dismiss, but I'm troubled by his concluding paragraph:
We must stop relying on Conservative and Republican mercenaries to fight our battles for us. It is said that politics is the "art of compromise." The Gospel of Christ, however, is not up for negotiation. There can be no compromise when it comes to any one of the issues mentioned above for they are simply different colored gloves camouflaging the same fist. It is the fist of the devil. We must take this battle to the streets in the Name of Jesus Christ and win it there before we can ever expect to win the battle in Washington, D.C.

This is not very dissimilar to Paul Weyrich's call for cultural conservatives to withdraw from the mainstream in 1998, setting up an alternative system that operates by its own rules. Benham likewise is no longer willing to let secular politicians or public officials handle matters, and appears to be calling for "Christians" to take matters into their own hands. Taking this "battle to the streets" to Benham's true believers likely means engaging in guerrilla terrorist tactics of the type formerly favored by Operation Rescue.

The problem is that there only need be one or two people who take Benham seriously and act on his advice to wreak a lot of misery.